PHILADELPHIA – The names that top the list of NHL scoring leaders are about as expected as a Zamboni cleaning the ice between periods.
Malkin. Crosby. Ovechkin.
The league’s top goal scorer isn’t nearly as familiar. Don’t worry if Jeff Carter doesn’t ring a bell. The Philadelphia Flyers centre isn’t even on the all-star ballot, but he’s suddenly in the mix as one of the fastest rising stars in the NHL. Only don’t expect the quite standout to tout his all-star credentials.
“It would be nice for it to happen, but I’m not too worried about it,” Carter said. “I haven’t really thought about it. I’ve got a lot of hockey games before that, so we’ll see.”
The 23-year-old Carter might not want to talk about playing in his first all-star game, so the Flyers will push the message that he belongs with the likes of Pittsburgh’s star duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin in Montreal for the Jan. 25 game.
Every time Carter scores a goal at home, the Flyers scoreboard flashes a bright and bold message to fans.
“Write Him In!”
“He deserves it,” Flyers forward Simon Gagne said.
Carter has enough goals to make the game – he scored his league-best 26th goal in Philadelphia’s 6-4 win over Ottawa on Tuesday night, helping the Flyers move within two points of the Rangers for the Atlantic Division lead. He just won’t have enough votes to earn a starting spot for the Eastern Conference. Carter had received 30,972 as a write-in candidate as of Dec. 23, not enough to even make a dent in the forward category when a player like Crosby has a record total of more than 1,000,000 votes.
Carter will likely be picked for the team as a reserve.
“He’s a great player. He’s still a young guy but he’s figured out the game,” Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg said. “He’s using his skill, his speed. He’s one of the best two-way players in the league.”
A first-round pick in the 2003 entry draft, Carter has played in stretches of his career like he could blossom into a regular goal-scoring threat. When the Flyers lost all-star centre Mike Richards to a hamstring injury last February, Carter picked up the scoring slack. He had eight goals in the nine games Richards missed, helping the Flyers go 5-2-2.
Carter played in all 82 games last season and had a career-high 29 goals and 53 points, and scored six more goals in the playoffs as he helped the Flyers reach the Eastern Conference finals. The Flyers rewarded Carter with a US$15-million, three-year deal in the summer – a contract that suddenly looks like a bargain for Philly.
His 26 goals this season are two more than Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek and his 40 points place him behind Malkin (58) Crosby (47) and Ovechkin (46). Only Reggie Leach with 61 goals in 1975-76 has led the league with the Flyers. With the way he’s playing, Carter feel he can join Leach on the elite list.
“The way things are going, I feel good out there and I get lots of chances,” Carter said. “I’m playing against other teams’ top lines a lot of the nights, so I’m just really worried about not getting scored on, and the other stuff takes care of itself.”
Carter, six-foot-three, 200 pounds, said there were no special off-season workouts, no new tricks added to his game that suddenly made his numbers skyrocket. He credits a fast start that boosted his confidence that allowed him to feel like he could stick the puck in the net every time he fires a shot.
“You can tell right now he’s got high confidence,” Gagne said. “He’s a big guy using his size and he’s got speed, too. He takes those great wrist shots, and every time you see him shooting the puck, you get the feeling it’s going to go in. He’s on a great streak right now.”
Earlier this month, coach John Stevens made Carter the centre on a line that includes Joffrey Lupul and Scott Hartnell and the trio has turned the Flyers into one of the hottest teams in the league. Carter’s been rewarded with more ice time, he has great speed, a quick wrist shot, and hits the net hard and with purpose.
“Lup’s is a real finesse guy; he has a lot of speed, which helps my game out, too,” Carter said. “Hartsy just crashes and bangs, gets to the net, creates a lot of space for myself and Lups. So it’s going well.”
Carter has 10 goals this month and has helped the Flyers earn a point in the standings in 12 straight home games. His teammates expect Carter, a London, Ont., native and NASCAR fan, to keep chipping away at the scoring title.
“I don’t see why not, it’s not like we’re only 10 games in,” Lupul said. “We’re over 30 games in now and it’s not like he’s getting one or two chances a game. He’s getting five or six chances a game so I don’t see why he can’t keep it up.”